The Obama administration on Thursday took extra steps to open Medicare benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is now accepting special enrollment requests from such couples, allowing those over age 65 to enroll outside the conventional enrollment period for Medicare Part A and Part B, medical and durable equipment coverage.
The agency also will give those couples a reprieve from late enrollment penalties.
"Today’s announcement helps to clarify the effects of the Supreme Court’s [reversal of parts of the Defense of Marriage Act] and to ensure that all married couples are treated equally under the law," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "We are working together with [the Social Security Administration] to process these requests in a timely manner to ensure all beneficiaries, regardless of sexual orientation, are treated fairly under the law."
Anyone who has earned enough credits from paying payroll taxes at work can enroll in Medicare on their own, according to AARP. Spouses who haven’t earned enough credits can qualify premium-free on their spouse’s work record — a benefit previously denied same-sex couples.
The rule applies only to state- and county-recognized same-sex unions.
Utah allowed such unions for 17 days, after a federal judge overturned Utah’s gay marriage ban. The state is locked in a legal battle over the ruling and isn’t uniformly recognizing the 1,200 same-sex marriages that were officiated.
Fewer than a dozen individuals in those unions are of the age to qualify for Medicare, shows an analysis of county records by The Salt Lake Tribune.
But Medicare is a fully federal program. As long as an individual is legally married in a state or other jurisdiction where the marriage was celebrated, they may be eligible to sign up for Medicare under this policy, regardless of where the married individuals reside, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services confirmed.
Tribune reporter Matthew Piper contributed to this report.
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